Trans. Peter Bush
Near the end of this slim book's final story, the narrator muses, "A narrative is never as good as the possibilities that fan out at the beginning." Ending a story as close to its promising beginning as possible sounds like Quim Monzó's strategy: in 125 pages, he gives us 14 stories, each of them more about the possibility of narrative than a tried-and-true plot.
Divided into five sections and delivered in unadorned prose, the stories in Guadalajara—the prolific Monzo's fourth book to appear in English; he himself has also translated Salinger, Hemingway and Capote into his native Catalán—primarily explore ideas or concepts. Many of the main characters remain nameless, and several stories circle back to their beginnings—think of it as M.C. Escher in paragraph form (in one story, characters actually do get stuck moving down staircases). Another story, "Family Life," which takes up one whole section on its own, also underscores the ways in which generations adapt and—according to Monzó's depictions—largely devolve by circling back to their origins: a young boy escapes the inexplicable family tradition of having a finger chopped off at age nine. Down the line, the family's babies start being born with an extra digit to make up for the one they'll eventually lose. The family can't agree on whether this means they should now start chopping off two fingers or just the original one. The tradition mutates and begins to fade, causing the family to drift apart. But Monzó's ending pushes the tale past the easy explanation of a lost tradition: the whole story begins again on its final page, when the boy who first eluded amputation, now a grown man and a fervent proponent of the custom, finds an audience in a woman whose own family's bizarre custom winks at us from the last lines.
Many of these stories read like fables, particularly those that take on popular legends. In "A Hunger and Thirst for Justice," Monzó pushes the Robin Hood tale to its logical conclusion: the old rich become the new poor, and eventually he has to flip sides, stealing back what he gave. In the story "Gregor," a clear (and brief) reversal of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," a roach wakes one morning to find he's now a fat kid. Very little escapes Monzó's witty examination—often to disastrous, hilarious ends.